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Come learn about shelling of Natchez

As part of its Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War and in honor of Veterans Day, the National Natchez Historical Park will present a free special program, the Shelling of Natchez, at 2 p.m., Sunday in the auditorium at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Stephen Don, NPS ranger will present an illustrated talk about the events that led to the bombardment of the city by the U.S.S. Essex.

Sept. 2 marked the 150th anniversary of the day when the federal gunboat came to Natchez to get ice for its wounded.

The Essex was in pursuit of the rebel gunboat, Webb, which had convoyed transports with supplies to Natchez from the Red River.

Led by Douglas Walworth, members of the Natchez Silver Greys fired on the ship, killing one man and wounding several others.

In retaliation, the Essex shelled the city for more than an hour. Seven-year-old Rosalie Beekman was hit by shrapnel during the shelling, becoming a child casualty of the Civil War.

While many Natchezians may be familiar with the story of the Essex, Don will present a number of little-known facts about the event.

For example, on board the Essex that day were Henry Jackson and Edward Johnson, two former slaves from Natchez who were serving in the U.S. Navy. Don has researched the Navy records of more than 50 former slaves born in Natchez who saw duty on federal ships during the Civil War.

He will share some of their stories as well as provide a glimpse in to the day-to-day life aboard a Union gunboat.

While the gunboat that shelled Natchez was sold by the U.S. Government after the war, today, the American fleet includes another U.S.S. Essex, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.

As part of special Veterans Day educational program, Don, a former navy diver, has been working with teachers and fourth graders at Cathedral and McLaurin Elementary who have written letters to servicemen serving on the modern day Essex.

Don will share their letters as well as the responses from marines and sailors about the Essex.


David Wyrick is the chief of interpretation and resource management at the Natchez National Historical Park.